#ageism and the importance of social JTBD


In this article from The New Yorker, Can we live longer but stay younger? we go through the fascinating journey to the AgeLab, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in Cambridge, and discover agnes (Age Gain Now Empathy System), the “sudden aging” suit.

We also meet Paro, a robotic baby seal, from Japan, bleats and moves its head, and is designed to act as a comfort to aging people:

“It’s a seal, rather than a dog or a cat, because people have great experiences with dogs and cats, and even Alzheimer’s patients can spot the eerie non-resemblance”. “Having no experience of seals, we accept Paro as he is.”

Old people will not buy anything that reminds them that they are old. We would rather suffer because we’re old than accept that we’re old and suffer less. 

Heinz, back in the nineteen-fifties, tried marketing a line of “Senior Foods” that was, essentially, baby food for old people. It poisoned an entire category.

About pers, or personal-emergency-response system, neck pendant that summons emergency services when pressed:

“The problem is that no one wants one. The entire penetration in the U.S. of the sixty-five-plus market is less than four per cent. And a German study showed that, when subscribers fell and remained on the floor for longer than five minutes, they failed to use their devices to summon help eighty-three per cent of the time.” In other words, many older people would sooner thrash on the floor in distress than press a button—one that may summon assistance but whose real impact is to admit, I am old.

This is exactly what happened to my 100+ years old grand-mother when she was still living in her house.

“We buy products not just to do jobs but for what they say about us”. This is exactly the social Jobs To Be Done, beyond the functional job, as explained in Clayton Christensen theory (See: Know Your Customers’ “Jobs to Be Done” by Clayton Christensen on https://hbr.org/2016/09/know-your-customers-jobs-to-be-done and Christensen in video: https://vimeo.com/235555189).

The AgeLab has rediscovered the eternal truth that identity matters to us far more than utility. The most effective way of comforting the aged […] is through a kind of comical convergence of products designed by and supposedly for impatient millennials, eg. hearing aids look the most like earbuds.

Unexpected convergences eg. Retirement villages came to be centered on golf courses, because the carts supply greater mobility in and around the village. This is the process of “exaptation”. It’s a perfect example of ‘transcendent design’—not made for older people, but ideal for them.

In “The Longevity Economy”, Joseph Coughlin says:

“There’s no reason for this enormous prejudice in favor of youthfulness in Silicon Valley and the tech industry,”